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Assertive Communication: Tips to Arguing Effectively, and Not Fighting Dirty

Recently, we at Psych2Go released a list of the 5 signs of a passive-aggressive person. If you don’t know what those signs are, you can check the list out HERE.

Since that list was posted, many of you have had some questions! Namely,

  • Is this list an attack on introverted people?
  • Is there a way for passive-aggressive people to handle conflict better?

The answers, respectively, are absolutely not, and yes! Passive-aggression is not the way all introverts handle conflict, nor is it exclusive to introverts – extroverts and ambiverts can be passive-aggressive too. How can you not be passive-aggressive? Be assertive instead!

Yes, the word may sound a little scary to some of us who have trouble handling conflict face-to-face. But there is a difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness or being overly confrontational.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at aggressive, passive and assertive communication styles, and using the best features of each to help you learn how to communicate better!

 

Aggressive Communication

Whether aggression is passive or open, it never helps a situation when it is used.

Aggressive communicators are unwilling to understand the views of others and are unwilling to compromise out of a need to have things done their way.

All aggressive people tend to:

  • Try to humiliate or sabotage people
  • Criticize or blame
  • Refuse to listen
  • Give antisocial body language and vocal tone

Passive-Aggression

Passive-aggressive people are also adversarial, deciding to make enemies with those they argue with, rather than wanting to determine the cause of the conflict. Passive-aggressive people may fear or dislike open conflict in the fear of their behavior being called out or their opponent being more aggressive. These traits are specific to passive-aggressive people:

  • Difficulty acknowledging anger
  • Use of Sarcasm
  • Denying that a problem exists
  • Pretending to be cooperative but being disruptive on purpose
  • Alienating themselves from others
  • Victimizing themselves

Open Aggression

While openly aggressive people are just as unwilling to be empathic and understanding, they express their discontent a little more loudly. While a passive-aggressive person aims to make people feel guilty or punished, openly aggressive people aim to make others feel intimidated or scared. These are the signs of an openly aggressive person:

  • Speaking in a loud or demanding voice
  • Acting threateningly
  • Interrupting the person they’re arguing with
  • Using “you” statements (“You always do this!”)
  • Aggressive body languages, like finger pointing, angry facial expressions or ignoring boundaries of personal space

None of these methods of communication seem like they help to end conflict in any way. Well, they don’t! After reading about these types of aggression, have you realized you might be guilty of being passively or openly aggressive? Don’t worry. It’s within our nature to feel angered or antagonized by differences and misunderstandings in communication. We have all been aggressive at one point or another, and we’ll all probably continue to have moments of aggression for the rest of our lives.

But it’s also important to learn when to take a step back from an argument or communication issue when we are feeling this way. Aggression is an instant social reaction to our negative emotions, but it is possible for us to control these emotions to think clearly and focus on resolving our conflicts rather than exacerbating them.

This is when acting assertively comes in handy.

In our last article about passive-aggression, handling arguments with assertive behavior was a mentioned solution to being passive-aggressive. Many of you were worried that introverts could not be assertive. I’m here to tell you, that just isn’t true! Assertive communication can be for everyone. But what is assertive communication, exactly?

 

Assertive Communication

Those who practice assertive communication take the time to support their rights and opinions without belittling or ignoring the opinions and needs of others. Assertive individuals take value in themselves as well as their standards for how they feel they should be treated. They also value the relationships they have with those that they may disagree with. Assertive communicators:

  • Listen intently and without interruption
  • Use “I” statements, so as to not place blame (“I felt frustrated about this issue”)
  • Speak calmly and clearly without raising their voices
  • Use relaxed and open body language – eye contact, relaxed hands, etc.
  • Express their feelings respectfully
  • Stand up for themselves when they feel abused or manipulated
  • Use polite phrasing (“I can see what you mean. I do feel, however..”)
  • Are willing to compromise, and determine what can be done to make both parties happy

So How Can I Stop Being So Petty!?

Being an assertive communicator often means being the bigger person in a conflict. Many people display aggressive behaviors in the light of the conflict, and so it takes an assertive communicator to step forward and confront the issue head-on.

Here are some tips for becoming a more assertive communicator.

 

  1. Your anger is not about them.

Sure, you’re pretty pissed with them. Maybe that joke they made about you yesterday hurt your feelings. When we feel hurt, our emotional centers rev up in defense and tell us that that person is malicious, or fake. Our aggression tells us to punish them. For some, that means through passive means, for others, open aggression.

Take a step back from what your feelings are telling you and realize that it’s not about who they are as people, it’s about your expectations for their conduct as friends – or family members, or lovers – not being met. This frame of thought will allow you to focus on the situation that made you angry, without making any personal jabs.

 

  1. They probably didn’t mean it.

No one’s out to get you (unless that person is a sociopath or psychopath, then you might be in some hot water)! Have you been giving someone backhanded comments for a week straight, wondering why they won’t take the hint that you’re angry at them? It’s because they probably have no idea why you’re so pissed, to begin with. Now you’re the bad guy. Take a day at most to process the situation, and find a way to communicate your feelings – preferably via phone call or in person, but a text could work, as long as it’s direct and polite. Chances are, they probably already know they’ve screwed up and letting them know you were hurt will give them a chance to apologize.

 

  1. It’s not all about you.

Everyone is the hero of their own narrative. Ever heard that phrase before? Remember that the next time you’re in an argument. The time someone gets aggressive with you is not the time to get aggressive back. It is the time to listen (see “be the bigger person”, four paragraphs up). Though this isn’t an ideal world and not everyone can be as charming and calm as you are, that person still has valid feelings of hurt or anger about something you may have done.

Don’t get defensive. Take the time to analyze the situation together and figure out what went wrong. If you’re at fault, apologize and work together to determine how that communication mishap can be prevented in the future.

 

That’s all, folks! I hope this was a clarification for some of you, on the intricacies of relational communication. Remember: Is being petty and refusing to resolve conflict worth ending a relationship over? I don’t think so, but I’ll leave the answer up to you!

This content was created in response to you, our lovely Psych2Go readers! Please feel free to let us know what topics you want to be covered or expanded upon, by using the comments section down below.

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Written by Alex Nunez

I'm a content writer here at Psych2Go. I've studied psychology and criminology at the University of Toronto. My goal is to write content that educates, entertains, and inspires you!

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